The Relationship Between Faith and Good Works

Have you ever wondered how the Bible teaches that sanctification requires both “labor” and “rest” seemingly at the same time?[1]  I often have come to the Scriptures with this question.  Wondering, “Well which is it?”  Then I go back to God’s Word and it answers back, “both.”  This only leaves me with more questions.  How are these two commands (labor and rest) compatible?  Are we to labor as long as we can and then rest?  Are we to rest so long to rejuvenate our strength and then labor?  What does it even mean to “labor” or to “rest” anyway?  These are the type questions I hope to answer.  I trust the truths from God’s Word that has nourished His beloved bride now for 2,000 years will be a tremendous source of joy for you this day.  So let’s dig in!

Setting the Stage and Defining Terms

***If you are confident that you already have a Biblical working of the concepts faith and good works you can skip this portion and move to the next heading***

Let’s begin with defining some terms so as to eliminate as much misunderstanding as possible.  What does the Bible mean when it speaks of “faith?”  Let’s assume that you are alone and shipwrecked out in the middle of the ocean.  What does faith look like?  Faith is not some sort of wishful thinking (i.e. “I hope someone will come save me!”).  And faith is not blind confidence (i.e. “I just know someone will come save me!”)  Nor is faith devoid of heart and behavioral change (i.e. God has told me in His Holy Word to look to the East from where my salvation will come.” [All said while looking West]) Rather faith springs from a realization of utter bankruptcy and utter dependence on your one and only hope (i.e. God has told me in His Holy Word to look to the East from where my salvation will come!” [All said while eyes are set like flint to the East with expectation and confidence])

Hebrews 11:1-3 states,

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.  For by it the people of old received their commendation.  By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible. (italics added for emphasis)

James 2:14, 17, 18, 26 state,

(Vs. 14) What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him?(Vs. 17) So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.(Vs. 18) But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. (Vs. 26) For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead.

Now that we have a working definition of faith and concept of what it looks like.  Let us move on to defining what the Bible means when it speaks of “good works.”

I don’t think it would be wrong to summarize all good works under the word love.  In fact I think in another post I could demonstrate from Scripture how all the fruits of the spirit and all good works are really just a displaying the many facets of what love is much like a diamond.  For example, when someone is irritating you what does love look like?  Love is patient.  When someone you see is in need and you have the resources to help, what does love look like?  Well, love is generous.  Therefore, I think it is fair to state that love is the summation of all good works.  That is, love towards God and love towards man and His (God’s) entire creation.

So faith is the confident seeing of God’s promises and leaning on them with all of who you are.  And good works is the act of loving God and man with all of who you are.

How Faith and Love Work Together

My thesis is that faith is the channel from which love springs[2].  Love is fed by faith.  Without faith love will die.  Let me give an earthly example of what I mean by this.

When does one fall in love with their spouse?  Is it not when they see a glimpse of their beauty?  Perhaps it was love at first sight.  Or perhaps it was after a long talk and opening up to one another that you observed her inner beauty.  Or perhaps it was when you beheld her commitment to you and your good.

Let me ask it in another way.  When do you find it hard to love your spouse?  Is it not when you cannot see her beauty?  Perhaps something else has grabbed your attention.  Or perhaps you cannot observe that inner beauty.  Or maybe it’s hard to behold her commitment to you and your good.

In both cases it is the seeing faculty (whether it is the sight or the knowledge) that fuels the love.  And the opposite of that is true as well, for it is the absence of the seeing faculty that dries up the love[3].

I know I am not communicating anything new here, most if not all already know this.  It is likely that you already know and agree with my thesis that faith is the channel from which love springs.  However, having the right answer and knowing why it is the right answer are two different things.  Do we know why/how faith is the channel by which love springs?

In the Bible faith is equating with eyes of our heart, or to seeing.  In addition, the absence of faith is associated with blindness.[4]  Faith, as in the analogy above, is the “seeing faculty” for our relationship with God.

So the best way for us to grow in our love and obedience to God is by faith.  That is to say, by seeing God in all His splendor and beauty we will be filled up with His love and empowered to obey Him.

Allow me to put some flesh and blood on this truth.  Suppose you are overwhelmed and exhausted.  You are being tempted to lose your patience and failing miserably.  What do you do?

Here are some answers I received when I polled this question:

“I pray.”  “I read my Bible.”  “I sing some Psalms and Hymns.”  “I reflect on the Gospel.”  “I ask for others to pray for me and perhaps counsel me through it.”  “I listen to a sermon.”

Notice that all of these are good answers.  All of these practices are commended and commanded in Scripture.  However, when I followed up their answer with the question, “Why, what exactly are you seeking to accomplish?”  Their answers were all the same, “I guess, I don’t really know.”  Now that isn’t to say they didn’t know the Bible told them to do these things.  But rather, they didn’t know why the Bible told them to do these things.  They didn’t know what the function of these practices was supposed to be.

All of these practices although distinct and unique all have the same function.  Their function is to give us some sort of glimpse of the splendor and beauty of God.  When you are feeling weak and tempted that ought to be a warning light that you are losing sight of God.  And as a result, your love tank is running on low.  It’s time for you to fill up again!  So you pray, “LORD Jesus please open the eyes of my heart, that I may behold your beauty once more!”  Then you open His Word with confidence that the Holy Spirit will grant you faith to see God.  And as you behold God in His glory afresh, you are filled with power to obey Him!

Where Do We Look to See God?

This brings up an important question, where can we see the glory and beauty of God?  Where has He revealed Himself most clearly?  Is it not in His Son and our glorious Savior Jesus Christ?[5]  In Him the fullness of deity dwells![6]  We see the full splendor and beauty of God in the person and work of Jesus Christ.

In other words, the clearest manifestation of the glory and beauty of God is in His glorious Gospel[7].  This is what we mean when we speak of the centrality of the Gospel.

This is why all scripture points to Jesus![8]  And this is why the Holy Spirits primary function is to reveal to us Jesus in all His splendor and majesty![9]  Therefore, whenever we listen to a sermon, say a prayer, read the Bible, engage in corporate worship, study some new doctrine, or whatever the discipline may be, the whole reason for doing so is that you may once again have the joy of your salvation be made afresh in your heart and mind!  You are seeing all these disciplines as glasses to help you focus your attention on Jesus and His glorious Gospel.  You are on a daily basis seeking for the Holy Spirit to make real to you the truth of the Psalm “to taste and see that the LORD is good.”[10]  The psalmist said it like this, “Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love that we may rejoice and be glad all our days.”[11]

When we speak of seeing Jesus to be changed we do not use see in the literal sense meaning visually, but rather to see yourself as utterly dependent and Jesus Christ as treasurable, precious, and your only hope. We are speaking of the awakening of both our affections and our mind.

What Does This Look like Practically?

Their three responses to the commands given in Scripture and only one way that is pleasing to the LORD.

Option #1 Legalism

Look at the Law and seek to keep it to the best of your ability.

Option #2 Licentiousness

Ignore the Law by appealing to grace as annulling it.

Option #3 Faith working through love

Look at the Law.  Acknowledge your inability to obey and your temptation to disobey. Plead with the Holy Spirit with boldness and confidence to reveal to you all that God has done for you and is doing for you in Christ Jesus though His Holy Spirit.  Then obey out of a  joy-filled heart.

Notice how options #1 & 3 both look at God’s law.  Only in option #2 is the law perverted and rendered as obsolete.  But notice the similarities between options #1 & 2 in that both ignore God either by ignoring what He commands or ignoring our need for His power to obey.  Both claim self-sufficiency.  It is only in option #3 that we see repentance and faith functioning.  Repentance is the acknowledging of our poverty in spirit.[12]  It is the turning from our dependence on our self (a denying of self) to a total leaning on God and His Word.

Application:  Farming and Sword Fighting

There are two ways in which to apply this truth to our life.  I like to look at them in categories of offensive and defensive.  The defensive is more focused on the heart such as:  encouraging your faith, strengthening that inner man, affirming your identity in Jesus.  By focusing on the defensive we are training the new heart that God gave us so that we stay tender to Him and His commands.  In this way, we stay in a posture of wanting to obey Him.  The offensive deals more with the wiles of the Devil and the deceitfulness of our sin.  Even if someone has a desire to do what is right, it does not mean that they won’t be deceived into doing wrong.

The defensive

The first is seen in Galatians 6:7-10 Paul gives the illustration of a farmer.  We reap what we sow.  The farmer works hard long hours during spring and summer cultivating the ground and sowing lots of good seed.  He then trust that in due season he will reap what he sowed.  So let me ask you.  What are you sowing on Monday morning to start your week?  Are you sowing the word of God deep within your heart, expectant for a great harvest at due time?  What disciplines are you doing to train yourself so that you may avail yourself to fresh manna each day that your tank stays full of the love of God?  Are you leaning on all the means giving to you by God that you may see Jesus and bear much fruit?  Do NOT lose heart my brothers and sisters, keep sowing and trust God for a harvest that will produce one hundred fold!

The offensive

The second illustration I get from Ephesians 6:10-17 and Matthew 4:1-11.  Ephesians teaches us that the Christian walk is a spiritual war where the Word of God is our sword.  In Matthew 4 we see our commander and chief wield the sword like nobody else!  In this narrative with Jesus and Satan battling, Satan’s key strategy is to deceive or to trick.  He knows that Jesus has no inclination to do evil.  But if he can deceive Jesus then he can triumph.  But Jesus knowing the Scripture confronted each temptation and lie with the truth and a promise from God.  We are to follow Jesus in this endeavor.

So again, let me ask you.  Do you know the Word of God, in such a way, that you may handle it against the deceiver and the deceitfulness of our sin?  Can you extinguish the enticement of the temporal pleasures that sin promises with the eternal riches that God promises?

Closing

These are the two ways in which we seek and pursue to see greater and greater manifestations of Jesus.  For Paul tells us,

And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another.  For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit. (2 Corinthians 3:18 ESV)

And there is where our “rest” and our “labor” meet.  We labor with all the strength that God gives us to seek to see Jesus in all the ways He instructs us to.  And we rest both in His promises and His grace at work through us for it God who works within to do these mighty things.[13]  For when we see Him we are compelled by His love!  For we love because He first loved us.  And when we see Him we shall be like Him.

Blessings


[1] 1 Corinthians 15:10; Matthew 11:28-30

[2] As see in:  Galatians 5:6; Romans 14:23; Hebrew 11:6; I Timothy 1:5.  Nor do I believe that I am arguing for anything new here as seen in these confessions:  Augsburg Confession Art. IV,VI, XX; 1st Helvetic Confession Art. XIII; XIV; The 39 Articles of Religion of the Church of England of ‘justification and good works”; and Westminster Confession of Faith Chapter XI

[3] As with all illustration at some point the illustration breaks down.  Ultimately our love should be fueled by our love of God and not conditioned upon how beautiful our wife is, let alone our perception of how beautiful our wife is.

[4] 2 Corinthians 3:15-18; 4:3-4; Ephesians 1:18; Is. 6:9-10; Matthew 13:13-16; John 9:35-41

[5] Hebrews 1:1-3

[6] Colossians 1:19

[7] 2 Corinthians 4:6

[8] Luke 24:44

[9] John 14:26

[10] Psalm 34:8

[11] Psalm 90:14

[12] Matthew 5:3

[13] 1 Corinthians 15:10; Philippians 2:13

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